“Mama, can you stay with me for a little bit?”

My almost-4-year-old has always been an extraverted socialite who would run to her daycare class at a mere 12-months old without looking back over her shoulder at her mama. We didn’t really go through the classic separation anxiety stage with her, and I think the stranger danger stage at around eight months lasted all of one week before she was back to gleefully reaching to anyone who smiled at her. 

I’ve watched this little one sprout from the 9lb, 11oz babe she was when she finally made her entrance into the world, to a tall, spirited, curly-headed child who makes jokes and tells exaggerated stories of far off places that are home to unicorns who have magic in their chests that comes out through their horns. I’ve watched with a sense of wonder and awe that not only do I get to claim her as mine, but that I get to bear witness to the person she is becoming. I get to take an active part in her story that is rapidly being written before my eyes. 

And I. Am. Loving. It.

I love watching her brain work as she problem solves and learns new things every day. I love listening to her tell me about her friends while using new words in the right context. I love watching and guiding her as she grows and learns and figures out how to be a person in this great big world.

I love seeing her grow up before my eyes.

And you know, I think she loves it, too.

But there are these moments that happen. 

These moments I think that brave little girl so full of adventure and passion about life, somewhere deep down at an instinctual level, realizes she’s growing up. Where that little mind that is usually so focused on the excitement and wonder life brings to a small child has an advanced thought in a second of pause that causes the little heart, bursting with joy and laughter, to skip a little beat. Causes her to turn her little head to me as we walk to the breakfast room after proudly dropping off her baby sister in the baby room at daycare and say quietly, “Mama, can you stay with me . . . just for a little bit?”

These moments come more frequently now than they did when she was younger. These moments of pause. These moments of wanting her mama to stay with her for an extra 60 seconds before leaving her for the day.

And it’s not fear I see in her eyes, nor is it manipulation—it’s something else. It’s the same thing I hear in her voice after she wakes up in the middle of the night and staggers into our room telling me the music went off or that she needs to go potty. When I tuck her back in her Tinkerbell sheets, she looks at me with those big brown half-closed eyes and murmurs, “Mama, can you stay with me . . . just for a little bit?”  

That thing I’m seeing in her eyes and hearing in her voice? It’s a desire to just be with her mama.

Just for a little bit longer.

And oh, that sweet baby girl. How I wish she knew. How I wish she understood the weight of those words and how they pull at this mama’s heartstrings every time. Even if I’m running late to work, if she asks me to stay for a little bit, I squeeze half a cheek onto a tiny chair next to her as she eats her toast and I stay for a little bit. If I’m exhausted because my husband has been incapacitated for the past four days with a stomach virus and her sister woke up an hour before she did at 3 a.m. but she says, “Mama, can you stay with me for a little bit?” You bet I lay down on that little bed next to her and rub her back for an extra minute or two before tripping my way back to my room. 

Because I know.

My grown-up brain doesn’t need to have moments of fleeting revelation to know that this mama only gets to stay with that little girl for a little bit. My fully-developed 28-year-old limbic system is mature enough to register the immense juxtaposition of pride and joy at seeing my daughter blossom into her own independent person and the twinge of sadness that comes with knowing that in years that are already flying by, that independent person will be walking, not just to the breakfast room at daycare, but to the cafeteria of a university where I won’t follow. My grown-up heart doesn’t have to skip a beat to know that that day is coming. 

And I am excited for that day.

I am excited for my baby girl to do big things in the world. I am excited for her to love with that big passionate heart and use it to lift up those who need lifting.

I am excited for her to grow up.

But that excitement doesn’t take away the ache in my heart I feel when she bounds away from me now, nor will it stop the tears that will inevitably leak out as we drive away from dropping her off at college.

So, my answer to her now is, “Yes.”

Yes, baby girl. Mama will stay with you.

Because I know it will be just for a little bit.

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Kiley Hillner

Kiley Hillner lives in Texas with her husband and two beautiful daughters. She works full time and recently graduated with her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is loving life and embracing the chaotic beauty of motherhood. You can find more of her thoughts on this parenting gig on her blog and on Facebook.